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1 smurf + 2-liter bottle = One-pot meth lab

North Carolina logged a record-matching number of methamphetamine lab busts last month. February's 46 labs matched the April 2005 peak. One key difference: In 2005, North Carolina had no law limiting sales of pseudoephedrine. We've reached the height of heights again even with the key ingredient moved behind the pharmacy counter. Why? Meth labs are now portable.

Law enforcement agencies say the "shake-and-bake" or "one-pot lab" method of manufacturing meth is behind the increase. The meth is cooked, without heat, in a 2-liter bottle with just a couple of grams of pseudoephedrine. Manufacturers can much more easily obtain the small amounts of pseudoephedrine than they could the large supply needed for "traditional" cooking. All they need is to have someone -- a "smurf" -- purchase the drug legally for them.

Since heat isn't required, the meth can cook anywhere a 2-liter bottle can go. One sheriff's deputy found a lab in a duffel bag when he stopped a car on a traffic violation. The officer smelled chemicals, made a cursory search of the vehicle and determined that a lab was present.

It's small size can't keep this manufacturing process from leaving dangerous sludge behind and producing ammonia-smelling gas. Clean-up still requires protective suits and air packs and hazardous material crews.

That's one of the dangers, say law enforcement agents. The next person in the rental car or in the hotel room faces serious health risks because of the exposure.

According to the State Bureau of Investigation, 157 meth labs were discovered in 2007. Last year saw 235, with 111 so far this year. One sheriff notes that meth labs weren't as abundant right after the pseudoephedrine laws passed. Unfortunately, he adds, "they developed a way to get a little bit here, a little bit there, and they're back in business."

Source: Raleigh News & Observer, "'Shake-and-bake' recipe means more meth lab busts," Martha Waggoner, 03/31/11

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